Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Enigma of Bob Dylan

Like a lot of people, I'm experiencing a renewed obssesion with Bob Dylan since the No Direction Home documentary aired. I used to listen to Dylan a lot in high school - my parents' old records of Blonde on Blonde and Planet Waves - and it's nice to come back to the music a little bit older and find new, deeper appreciation.

But there's been a crankier reaction to all the recent Dylan hoopla as well. I came across this article from the Belfast Telegraph, which articulates the feelings of a particularly cynical branch of the baby boomers, who apparently yearned for a more intimate understanding of Bob Dylan for thirty years and then were terribly disappointed to discover that he is a mere human being. Nothing irks me quite like the self-indulgence of the baby boomers. To a certain mindset their time (the 60s) was the end-all be-all of music, culture, politics, protest, you name it - we're all familiar with the cliche. But the boomers had the misfortune of being able to grow old and see their beloved pop idols tarnished or their totemic stature reduced to simple humanity, and damn if they haven't adopted a luxurious weariness about it. I begin to understand more and more why arch-conservatives hate the boomers so much - they're like spoiled children throwing a hissy fit.

The Belfast Telegraph author writes of his disappointment with Dylan - which is in reality his dissapointment with his own image of Dylan - in the manner of someone writing a complaint letter to a department store. This, I think, exposes the fundamental hypocrisy of the 60s generation - for all their talk of revolution and change, they couldn't recognize that their behavior still played exactly by the rules of whatever power structure they claimed to oppose. Pop stars like Dylan illustrate this perfectly - the musician/fan relationship plays out in the product/consumer model. The musician Dylan is the product that the fan consumes, and therefore feels they own. So, by extension Dylan "owes" the fan something and is met with righteous indignation anytime the fan feels snubbed. Now, pop stars are often selfish primadonnas, sure - after all they're egomaniacal narcicissts - but they're involved in a fundamentally dehumanizing situation and the self-absorption of the fans is equally absurd.

It is the logic of the person who sends back their food and is rude to the waiter while dining at a restaurant. This type of attitude is the result of privilege, and the baby boomers were and are the most privileged generation our country has ever seen. And just look at the zeal with which they cling to their tattered icons, like some ratty teddy bear from a Cape Cod childhood.

I'm just glad I can listen to Dylan as just quality music, without the attendant anxieties of the failed 60s.

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